A discussion with the man behind the La Valencia deal
As the president and CEO of San Diego-based American Property Management Corp., La Jollan Michael Gallegos has built his company into one of the largest hotel businesses in the United States with more than $2.2 billion in assets. APMC has recently agreed to purchase the historic La Valencia hotel in La Jolla and the Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa in Rancho Santa Fe.
Gallegos proclaims himself proud to be an American and is quick to point out that only in the U.S. can a person start out with nothing and build something of significance.
Q: How did you get into the hotel business?
A: My mother was a controller of La Fonda, a four-star hotel on the plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She used to take me to work with her when I was 4 or 5 years old. Essentially I was a hotel brat. When I was 11, I approached the owner of the hotel and asked him for a job in the hotel. He refused repeatedly because he said that there were child labor laws and he could not put me on the payroll. Eventually, I figured out that there was another way for me to work at La Fonda and that was for tips only and not be on the payroll. That way there would be no violation of child labor laws.
Q: What could you possibly be qualified to do at 11 years old?
A: I convinced him to let me have a job as the parking lot attendant for tips only with the stipulation that I would not be parking cars because I was not licensed to drive and I couldn’t see over the steering wheel. But I soon learned after getting that job as the parking lot attendant that the only way to make really good tips was to park cars. So after the guest would leave the keys with me, they would look at me very dubiously and I would explain to them that I was the assistant parking lot attendant and that the parking lot attendant was parking a car. I was just taking the keys and giving out claim checks. But when the guests would turn the corner to go into the hotel, that’s when I would get behind the wheel and park the car myself.
Q: Did you have any other jobs within the hotel?
A: Eventually the owner was getting so many compliments from the guests that they promoted me to restaurant cashier and then front desk PBX operator. By the time I was 16, I was the front desk manager of a four-star hotel. I would do that at night after I got out of school and on weekends. By the time I was 17, I was the assistant general manager and still in high school. When I graduated at 18, I was managing that hotel and I’ve been the youngest general manager of a four-star hotel in the history of this country to this date.
Q: How did you get involved with American Property Management Corp.?
A: At 30 I saved up some money and with a partner formed APMC and bought our first property 18 years ago. Since then we’ve been successful in owning, and operating hotels.
Q: What motivated you to move your business to San Diego?
A: We bought a hotel here over 10 years ago. It was the Radisson Downtown in Little Italy. I honestly fell in love with San Diego and La Jolla. In late 1999 my mother passed away at the young age of 59 from the effects of cancer. Our firm at the time was the 23rd largest hotel firm in the country. We knew we were challenged to continue to grow the firm out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. In order to grow the firm to the next level, we knew we had to be in a major market, with good access to transactions, ready access to debt, non-stop flights all over the country, etc. We did not want to live in Los Angeles because we wanted a place that offered good quality of life to raise our families. So in 2000 we moved the firm here very quietly.
Q: Was it difficult leaving New Mexico?
A: It was very difficult dislodging ourselves from New Mexico. I’m the descendent of 400 years of people living in New Mexico on my mother’s side. They came over with Coronado and the Spanish conquistadors. On my dad’s side, they came over 40 years later with Cortez on his expedition. My people were here before the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.
Q: To what do you attribute your success?
A: I’m a person who has nothing but gratitude in their heart. I have gratitude for the family I was born into because this is a family run business. I have my brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces all working in the business. We have 5,500 employees and I have the most talented team on the planet. The only thing I can get credit for is surrounding myself with people that are a lot more intelligent and a lot more talented than me.
Q: Is there anything that you would like to tell the readers of the La Jolla Light?
A: I guess more than anything else my fellow La Jollans should know that I’m now and have been a La Jollan for the past eight years. I truly understand and respect the heritage of La Valencia and I believe that the Collins family have entrusted me to preserve it and enhance it and that is my mission. It is much better for someone from La Jolla who loves and treasures La Valencia to acquire it and operate it than someone from out of state who looks at it as a commodity.